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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/685

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LITTRÉ, DUMAS, PASTEUR, AND TAINE.

creation indicated the existence of powers infinitely beyond it, and that the utmost advance in scientific knowledge only brought us to the verge of an incalculable horizon. The discourse in answer to M. Pasteur was delivered by M. Renan, but it proved to be a feeble and disjointed effort of French incredulity, without its wit. So that the cause of skepticism and negation was on these occasions upheld by the men of letters, inquirers into the origin of language and the phenomena of history, while the cause of belief in an infinite and supernatural power was defended by the men of science, whose lives have been devoted to the study of the natural world and to demonstration by the experience of the senses. The contrast was striking, and we think our readers may follow it with interest.

But, before we proceed to that part of our subject, we must pause to pay a tribute of respect, unhappily too long delayed, to the memory of the most remarkable of these eminent persons. There are other experimentalists, there are many historians, but M. Littré stands alone as the greatest of lexicographers, and the literary work accomplished by his almost unassisted labor was literally stupendous. We can use n$ other term. The character of the great "Dictionary of the French Language," to which he devoted thirty years of unremitting toil, is best described by its elaborate title-page. The mere material bulk of the work, which was published in four thick quarto volumes, is astonishing. The manuscript (without the supplement) covered 415,636 pages. The proof-sheets were 2,242. If the "Dictionary" had been set up in a single column of type, it would have extended over 37,325 metres, or about twenty-seven miles. The work was first projected in 1841, when M. Littré had already passed the fortieth year of his life; it was not till 1846 that the contract was signed with M. Hachette, whose liberal support was indispensable to the author. From that time forth the collection of authorities and materials, and the art of classification, which was the result of numerous experiments (some of them being abortive), occupied about thirteen years. Several persons were employed to read and extract, with a precise reference, passages from the whole body of the French classical writers from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century; to which M. Littré added, from his accurate knowledge of the old French chronicles and poets, a multitude of curious archaic examples from the thirteenth century downward. The arrangement of this enormous mass of materials seems to have been entirely done, by M. Littré himself. The work of printing began in September, 1859, and was completed in July, 1872. Every proof passed under the eyes of four careful correctors, besides the printer's reader, and the final revision of the author. It took about two months to carry a sheet through the press. In the course of this vast operation 292 quarto pages of three columns each were added to the proofs. Twice the composition and execution of the work were interrupted by a revolution and a war; but, by assiduous efforts, M. Littré always kept